Taiwanese Technology Manufacturer Foxconn admits to hiring underage workers

November 15, 2012

(Photo via Steve Jurvetson)

Chances are you have never heard of the Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn. But if you ever bought a product from Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, Dell or Nintendo, then you have bought a product manufactured by Foxconn.

In a recent statement, Foxconn has acknowledged that several teenagers were hired as interns to work in one of their many factories in China. The teenagers, as young as 14, were hired despite China’s national law establishing the legal working age to be 16.

This has vindicated many labour rights activists in China, who routinely accuse Foxconn and other Chinese companies of hiring underage workers as cheap labour on their factory lines. Foxconn has had trouble finding adult workers to staff its many production lines, and has used the internship program to fill in some of the gaps. In this specific instance, Foxconn needed to make up for an expected shortfall of 19,000 workers.

Foxconn has defended its internship policies, stating that only 2.7 per cent of its total workforce is made up of interns. And while this may seem like a small amount, Foxconn employs a total of 1.2 million workers in its dozen or so Chinese factories. However, the company has also admitted that it will work closer with local governments in order to prevent the same situation from occurring elsewhere.

Foxconn is widely considered to be the main consumer electronics manufacturer in the world, producing an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s consumer electronic devices. It is the exclusive producer of Apple’s iPhone, and produces every type of electronics one could imagine, from digital cameras to Nintendo Wii’s. And with the announcement that Foxconn has been guilty of using illegal labour practices, it will be interesting to see when, or if any, of its clients will seek to distance themselves from the company.

This is not the first time that the company has been under the spotlight for its work practices, however.

Foxconn was forced to install safety nets at several of its factories in 2010, after an estimated eighteen workers committed suicide by jumping off of roofs. The reasons for their deaths are varied, but former workers have claimed that Foxconn routinely forces unpaid overtime, provides low benefits, has excessively low wages, and that otherwise poor labour conditions are common amongst its factories. Riots have occurred over poor living spaces in the dormitories that Foxconn uses to house its vast numbers of workers. Accidents are also common due to a lack of safety conditions at many of these same facilities.

And at one factory in Mexico, a major riot occurred after workers discovered that the buses that were supposed to take them home were delayed due to the company wanting its workers to work several additional hours of unpaid overtime. An internal investigation found these claims to be false, but workers insist that Foxconn routinely fails to compensate its workers for overtime.

Despite these incidents, Foxconn will likely continue to be the world’s biggest manufacturer of electronics for years to come. So when you go out to buy a new phone or tablet, remember that it probably came from Foxconn.